Dec. 20: Central and state officials experienced contrasting welcomes as they rode their convoys up to Darjeeling where the fourth round of tripartite talks is scheduled to be held tomorrow.
The teams led by Union home secretary G.K. Pillai and Bengal chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti were first shown black flags by organisations that are against the division of the state at Station More, just as the convoys emerged from the Bagdogra Airport at 2pm.
However, about 10km away, where NH31 meets NH55, hundreds of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha supporters dressed in daura sural and choubandhi choil waved at the delegation with party flags and cheered them as the cars sped uphill.
Amra Bangali, Bangla Bhasa Bhasa Bachao Committee and the Dooars-Terai Nagarik Mancha — that are against the splitting of the state and whose members waved the black flags — have called a 24-hour strike in Siliguri and Jalpaiguri district tomorrow to protest the talks.
At Bagdogra, Pillai told reporters he was hopeful that tomorrow’s discussions will be fruitful. “This is the fourth round of talks and I hope that we will have fruitful discussions with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha and the representatives of the West Bengal government,” he said.
The Bengal chief secretary said: “We cannot specifically say what will be discussed tomorrow unless the meeting is held. However, the issue of development in the hills would be discussed.”
In Darjeeling, a 16-member Morcha team held its final, preparatory meeting at Planters Club. “The delegation will counter all efforts to discuss development issues in the hills by reminding the bureaucrats that the state had not fulfilled its commitments of reopening closed tea gardens in the Dooars as well as regularising casual workers of the DGHC. The party delegation will raise these issues and stonewall any efforts to discuss matters other than Gorkhaland,” Morcha sources told The Telegraph. Party president Bimal Gurung had yesterday threatened a walkout if anything other than statehood was discussed.
Since the Morcha wants the Terai and the Dooars to be part of Gorkhaland, the party-backed Independent MLA Wilson Champromary, who won from Kalchini in the byelection this year, will be part of the hill delegation to be led by general secretary Roshan Giri. Kalchini is in the Dooars.
Earlier in the day, in Darjeeling, hundreds of men and women dressed in their traditional attires hit the streets. “We appeal to everyone to wear the dress tomorrow as well to show how different we are from the rest of Bengal. Those who do not wear traditional attires will be requested to do so with flowers,” said Diwakar Gurung, a Morcha central committee member.
The meeting begins at the conference room of Mayfair resorts at 11am. Pillai, who will be leading the six-member central team, will be accompanied by joint secretary N. S. Kalsi, special secretary Anita Chowdhury and deputy secretary P.N. Saxena of the home ministry. Rajiv Mathur, chief of the Intelligence Branch, and the central government appointed interlocutor, Lt Gen. (retired) Vijay Madan, will also be part of the central team.
Besides chief secretary Chakrabarti, home secretary Ardhendu Sen, director general of police Bhupinder Singh, the state’s six-member group will have DGHC administrator B.L. Meena, Jalpaiguri divisional commissioner A.K. Singh and Darjeeling district magistrate Surendra Gupta.